Do we have any way to know who will be in heaven? Who will live forever in the dwelling place of God – with their Creator and Redeemer?
It seems far too easy (and perhaps less disturbing) to attach our hearts to reassuring clichés on this matter. We say, “Only those who accept Jesus as Savior go to heaven.” Or, “Only those who believe in the gospel go to heaven.”
These are not necessarily wrong statements but they possibly conceal something Jesus revealed.
Here we must be careful because Jesus did not separate matters as sharply as our doctrinal statements sometimes do.
Case in point
When the disciples asked Jesus about greatness in the kingdom (Matthew 18:1), Jesus made one of what are called his entrance sayings.” These are specific statements about who will enter the kingdom of heaven. (It will do no good to separate kingdom and salvation as if you could have salvation without entering the kingdom).
“I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:2).
This is similar to what Jesus said at the beginning of His sermon on the mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
But if we said that only those who are humble will be in heaven, do we condition salvation and eternity in heaven on human effort? Doesn’t the Bible teach that God’s salvation is a gift and not based on works that we do? (see: Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus shocked his audience with another entrance saying, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (cf. Matthew 7:21; 18:8,9; 19:17, 24; 25:21,23).
We must not read the teaching about the imputed righteousness of Jesus (taught in the epistles) back into this saying. Nothing would have been further from the minds of those who heard Jesus.
Instead, what Jesus intended in His demand for “surpassing righteousness” becomes clear in Matthew 6:1 – ““Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.” Don’t prostitute what is sacred to promote yourself. Heavens inhabitants resist image promotion and ego-building.
The mindset of the kingdom is concerned with being seen by the father in secret not recognition and honor from people.
Humility does not come naturally:
None of this is natural to us. That’s why Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Only the path of self-humbling leads to the kingdom. And greatness in the Kingdom of heaven is the opposite of greatness in earthly kingdoms Jesus said, “Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).
Becoming childlike is not a reference to being innocent as a child or having the simple faith of a child. Jesus is dealing with love for status. Children were a cultural example of non-status and mostly exhibited unconcern for status.
Jesus is simply emphasizing the attitude of truly redeemed people (cf. Isaiah 66:1-2). ”God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5).
Interestingly, Jesus used the present tense: “whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”–not “will be” but “is.”
This implies a continuity of disposition between now and a time to come– the disposition of the redeemed.
Socio-economic and Spiritual:
In the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Luke, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20). In Matthews account, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Luke used socio-economic categories. Matthew used spiritual categories. Is there a relationship? Do riches push people away from God? Does wealth lead to a self-sufficient pride?
“Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5).
“God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (I Corinthians 1:27-29).
What a great place heaven will be!
Heaven is open to the poor in spirit and closed to the proud in spirit. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Yet humility seems so out of reach. The moment you think you’ve attained it, you’ve lost it. And it’s possible to be so humble that you’re proud of it.
The Puritans wisely suggested that even in our repentance there is likely something to repent about — how proud we are for being so repentant! Is the starting point of true repentance found in repenting of our repentance. Sound confusing? It doesn’t to repentant people.
“Unless people sense their guilt and helplessness to save themselves…, the wonder and availability of God’s grace will not move them” (D. A. Carson).
Should we say that humility begins when we know we don’t possess it and cannot attain to it? Can one ever really know he has reached a state of humility? Would this matter to humble people? Our cry must remain: “God be merciful to me the sinner.”
When Martin Luther dedicated his life to be lived as a monk and offered his first communion he was profoundly overwhelmed with a sense of his own sinfulness in view of the greatness of God and the sacrifice of Christ. When he came to the words, “We offer unto Thee, the living, the true, the eternal God,” he was suddenly filled with terror. “Who am I that I should lift my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty?” he thought. “The angels surround Him. At His nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that’? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal, and true God.”
This is poverty of spirit!
It’s a person’s attitude toward himself before God as he recognizes his spiritually bankrupt condition. It’s an awareness that he has no claim before God beyond a cry for mercy.
Llyod-Jones said of the poor in spirit that he is truly amazed that God and man would think of him and treat him as well as they do. Contrast that with the attitude of entitlement that permeates affluent cultures. Then compare it with the attitude of those welcomed into the kingdom in Matthew 25:34-40.
This attitude is observed in Isaiah when he encountered the Holy God, high and lifted up—and responded in personal devastation, “Woe is me for I am undone…” Upon receiving a fuller understanding of the holy character of God, Job cowered back and said, “I have heard of you with the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, therefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).
Prior to his conversion, Augustine wrote, “I grew more wretched as Thou didst grow nearer”? The apostle stated it clearly: “Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). There is only one answer: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25).
- What are the consequences of the absence of poverty of spirit among those who profess to be the people of God?
- Have we lost our sense of awe at the terror of the great and awesome God?
- Has this loss been behind our sense of liberty to cut moral corners, to trivialize our sins, to demand our rights—to question God’s Word and authority—to write off guilt as a feeling God would not inflict on us?
“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18).
“God-fearing people have a dreadful love for God, and awe-filled love that knows God is not mocked, that we reap whatever we sow, that God is not to be fooled with, scorned, or ignored but trusted, loved and obeyed. Everything wise and righteous is built on this unshakable foundation. Fear and love must go together. God-fearing people know that God’s first project in the world is not to make us happy and that we will gain happiness only after we have renounced our right to it. ‘For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it’” (Mark 8:35) (Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to be)
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